Tag: luc besson

Anna


Anna (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Luc Besson’s action-thriller “Anna” tells the story of a Russian woman (Sasha Luss) recruited by the KGB during the intelligence war against the CIA. A victim of domestic abuse and a drug addict, she considers working for the government as a short-term solution that might lead to a better life, but, after having proven her efficiency as a tyro agent, her superior (Eric Godon) demands that she serve for the long haul—or die. Occasionally entertaining are the ridiculous action scenes in which Anna must storm a place and shoot every person in a suit or uniform, but there is a disconnect between the complex, glossy choreography and the titular character’s desperation to achieve freedom. And so when the busy buzzing of bullets and cracking of bones die down, the personal drama comes across rather disingenuous most of the time. It lacks a certain abrasiveness that allows the drama to become convincing and compelling. The picture, however, is elevated somewhat by supporting actors who strive to deliver solid performances: Luke Evans the brooding KGB officer, Helen Mirren as the sharp and tough KGB handler, and Cillian Murphy as an unwavering CIA agent constantly on Anna’s heels.

The Family


The Family (2013)
★ / ★★★★

The Manzoni family are now the Blake family as they fall under the witness protection program. Fred (Robert De Niro) has snitched against a fellow Mafia and so he and his family are no longer safe in the U.S. They are assigned to live in a small town in Normandy where not much happens. It should have been easy to assimilate but the ways of the Mafia are ingrained deep in the bones of the Blakes. Though precautions are made, their identities are discovered eventually and a Mafia boss (Stan Carp) sends his henchmen to clean up.

The film works as an action-thriller but it flounders as a comedy. Given that it is supposed to be a hybrid of both, it never reaches a healthy balance so the experience is a great frustration. Coming into the picture, I had no idea that Luc Besson directed—and co-wrote—the material. And yet at the same time I was not surprised. The last twenty-five minutes is the best part of the picture—and majority of it involves building up the tension until the inevitable violence. It shows the efficiency of the Mafia when it comes to achieving a goal, why they are notorious.

It must have occurred to Besson and Michael Caleo that their screenplay is lacking a special spark. It is not at all funny. While the characters are supposed to be bored with their new small-town life, the movie is not supposed to be boring. There is a way of showing the dullness of the every day without necessarily being dull. Each member of the family gets his or her own subplot but all of them have little heft. Their quiet desperation is not communicated in an effective manner.

Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) frequents a church to deal with her guilt. Belle (Dianna Agron) falls in love with her substitute math teacher. Warren (John D’Leo) deals with the politics in his school. Fred wants to write but he is not allowed to write what he knows—Robert (Tommy Lee Jones), a supervisor of the program, makes sure of that. A lot is going on but not one is particularly engaging or compelling. I never once believed that the characters are a real family. Things happen but I found myself not caring.

In fact, I found one of the subplots to be quite cheap. A minor having sexual relations with an adult and we are supposed to buy that at least some aspect of it is romantic? While the subject can be interesting in a different film with much more intelligent or insightful screenplay, it comes off desperate here. It feels like the writers had run out of ideas and so they came up with this schoolgirl crush thing that does not make any sense whatsoever.

Based on a novel by Tonino Benacquista, “The Family” is almost devoid of inspiration. A month from now, perhaps the only moment I will remember from the picture is DeNiro watching Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” because the joke, while obvious, is on point. I certainly wished I was sitting through that movie instead.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Somewhere in the middle of the film’s unjustifiably hefty running time of one hundred forty minutes, I decided to turn my brain off and simply try to enjoy the pavonine display of visual feasts. But considering today’s pedigree of top science fiction pictures, the approach of style over substance does not and should not cut it any longer, a fact that writer-director Luc Besson either is not aware of or chooses to overlook. One takes a serious look at “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” and realizes that it is a piece of work that falls just short of greatness.

Had Besson taken more time to revise the screenplay, he might have realized that he needed to dig deeper into the idea of various futuristic cultures coming together, humanoid or otherwise, to form a synergistic society and connect this concept to our current reality that is the increasing interconnectedness of a global community. After all, the sci-fi genre is classically used to hold up a mirror to society which paves the way for self-criticism and introspection. It is such a disappointment then that the film has nothing more on its mind other than to entertain superficially. Had its ideas been more muscular and layered, its flaws on the level of popcorn entertainment could have been far away easily overlooked.

Take a look at the casting, for example. While Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, United Human Federation soldiers and each other’s love interest, do a capable job in playing their respective roles, there are occasions when they look bored with their roles, hungry for a challenge. Instead of being provided a believable and relatable character development, at times the duo are reduced to saying cheesy one-liners that are supposed to be fun, completely contrasting against the look on their unchallenged faces.

The would-be romance between Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline is forced and completely unconvincing. DeHaan and Delevingne have such specific appeal on their own but when they are less than half a foot apart and must lean in for some sort of romantic affection, it is awkward and strange, to say the least. It goes without saying that the co-stars lack a spark, a strong chemistry required to establish a satisfying budding romance. Perhaps the fact that we learn close to nothing about these characters, with the exception of what they do and how good they are at it, contributes to the absence of romantic credibility.

Still, there are details to be enjoyed such as the look of the extraterrestrial life forms we come across, from lizard-like creatures that can only utter garbled noises to amorphous beings with excellent command of language. Particularly beautiful are the Pearls whose sun-drenched tropical planet is destroyed during a dramatic opening sequence. One cannot help but stare at their skin, how it is decorated by cosmetics and jewelry depending on their rank, the distance between their eyes, their androgynous features.

A lot of effort is put into the look and form the aliens, even various places where action sequences unfold, a handful of them quite stunning on top of commanding original ideas, but what the picture needed most is a heart and brain that at least match every unique peculiarity we encounter. Style over substance may work on a pure action picture but rarely is it overlooked in science fiction where ideas are worth their weight in gold.

Taken 3


Taken 3 (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“Taken 3” is a death rattle to a series that started off so strongly, we learned that Liam Neeson could be an action star—not just any action star who can shoot guns and look good doing it, but one who we can sympathize with when the chips are down and cheer for when a baddie deserves his comeuppance. This film exists to steal our time unabashedly, which is actually worse than taking money out of our pockets.

The nondescript setup is this: Bryan Mills (Neeson) receives a text from his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), that she would like to meet him at his place for bagels, presumably to talk about the marital issues she is having with her current husband (Dougray Scott). But when Mills gets to his apartment, he discovers Lenore on the bed with her throat slashed. He has been framed and escape will not be so easy since two cops are already on the scene.

Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen should be ashamed because what they have come up with is a regurgitation of painfully standard action plot lines. They attempt to insert a twist here and there but they make no impact because there is no emotional heft to the material. We already know that Mills has a talent for extricating himself out of the most complicated situations and so when a rather straightforward and predictable murder “mystery” is placed in front of him, there is no tension. We watch passively as one boring scene bleeds through another.

The action sequences command no sense of urgency. The shootouts are not well-choreographed; everyone just seems to be shooting at each other aimlessly. Once in a while someone gets hit. The vehicle chases are sloppily put together; the editing is so manic at times that it is a challenge to appreciate the thrill or suspense of a scene. The hand-to-hand combat, too, is lacking. Eventually, Mills gets into a fistfight with a Russian man who is directly involved in Lenore’s murder. The scene is supposed to be raw, suggested by the closeups, but I found it only mildly watchable. The lead actor does not seem very into it either.

The supporting characters are cardboard cutouts. Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is supposed to be smart and highly pragmatic. It is difficult to buy into his character because although we see him make conclusions, we are not given a chance to walk in his shoes for a little bit and experience how his mind puts two and two together. Meanwhile, Maggie Grace, playing Mills’ daughter, is a bore, her character a caricature of a young woman in college who discovers that she might be pregnant. Of course she’s going to name her baby after her mother by the time the movie ends!

Directed by Olivier Megaton, “Taken 3” is an exercise is banality. There are only a few times when I have nothing positive to point out even in a bad movie. I don’t know what’s sadder or more infuriating—that the filmmakers, including the producers, know they are making this only to make money or that people are actually paying to consume the trash placed on their laps.

Colombiana


Colombiana (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

In 1992, when young Cataleya (Amanda Stenberg) was only five years old, she witnessed the assassination of her parents (Jesse Borrego, Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Her father wanted to stop working for Don Luis (Beto Benites) but leaving the organization was simply out of the question. Equipped with natural athleticism, street smarts, and a bit of luck, Cataleya was able to escape her country and seek refuge in the United States to live with her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis). When he asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said she wanted to be a killer.

Based on the screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, “Colombiana” is engaging during the action scenes but when it shifts its focus on the human drama, it comes across like a tepid spin-off of a great television show. Although Saldana plays a very watchable heroine, her presence is not enough to make up for the picture’s more noticeable inadequacies.

The scene of young Cataleya running from gangsters—in the streets, inside homes, and on roofs—is most enthralling to watch because the chase consists only of images and score, alongside minimal usage of sound effects. Add the decreasing distance between the little girl and the men with guns, it is impossible not to root for the child. In other words, the director is aware that he need not do too much to the viewers that there is suspense on screen.

Fifteen years later, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) becomes involved in the contract killing business run by her uncle. Unbeknownst to him, however, Cataleya is responsible for the murders of people connected to Don Luis because she hopes to get his attention. This left me feeling confused about half the time. Why go through all the trouble when she suspects that Don Luis still lives in the same country? To me, it is obvious: the man will not dare to leave country because he has the greatest influence in Colombia. Our protagonist is a smart woman with excellent instincts. It would have made more sense if she had returned, did a bit of investigation, and systematically narrowed down the gangster’s location.

Due to the material’s lack of logic, the situation provided above being one of the half a dozen examples, it is difficult to process all the happenings as more than a mere set-up to inject more sadness in Cataleya’s life. And of course she there is a subplot involving a boyfriend (Michael Vartan). The relationship is written in such a cheesy at times that I wondered if the lead character might have been better off as a college student in her twenties and slowly figuring out what is important to her than a woman so driven by revenge that she is willing to make unnecessary sacrifices.

“Colombiana,” directed by Olivier Megaton, has plenty of ideas but about half of them need to be excised so that Cataleya’s redemption arc has a chance to come into focus. Why not dedicate more scenes between Emilio and his niece? Both have experienced losing persons they loved. Instead, their interactions are reduced to secret meetings in a library or a laundromat.

Taken 2


Taken 2 (2012)
★ / ★★★★

After putting their dead in the ground, the enraged father of one of the deceased Albanians, Murad (Rade Serbedzija), bows to get revenge on Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former CIA operative who killed everyone who got in his way to rescue her daughter after she was kidnapped in Paris. When their mother-daughter-new beau trip to China is cancelled, Mills invites his Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim (Maggie Grace), his ex-wife and daughter, respectively, to join him in Istanbul. He works there for three days and, if they want, they can drop by and spend time together. And they do. However, sightseeing is set aside when the angry Albanians execute their plan to take Mills.

Although “Taken 2,” written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, is somewhat passable as an action-thriller, the technical elements utilized are not enough to save an otherwise very unambitious picture. There is enough material here to make a solid fifteen- to twenty-minute short film, but expanding it to a ninety-minute work means a lot of padding. Furthermore, a lot of the violence that transpire in Turkey’s largest city are weak, disposable, and unmemorable. There is a lack of energy behind scenes that should be exciting.

The set-up is cheesy and slow. While Neeson does a fairly good job playing a father who yearns to connect with his daughter on a deeper and a man who wants to be supportive of his former wife, the script is written superficially. Words that should communicate Mills missing his former life with his family come off silly at times. It is apparent that what we are seeing and hearing is the calm before the storm. Either the first act needed to be written more intelligently and with subtlety or it needed to have been eliminated completely and allowed the picture to start the moment the family are together in Istanbul. Why bother with introductory scenes when the approach is akin to sleepwalking?

The chase scenes are conventional, from cars slowly making their way through crowded streets to a desperate pursuit on the rooftops. No matter how nicely the would-be heart-pounding scenes are edited and put together, there is no masking the fact that there is barely energy coming from behind the camera. It feels like the same action sequence is shot about three times, but the director, Olivier Megaton, fails to hone in on what should be shown, how it should be approached, and when to break patterns in order to keep us on our feet. It is not that enjoyable to watch.

I appreciated the risk involving the daughter playing a key role in the action. At least for a while, it breaks the rhythm of Mills always having to be the one rescuing everybody. Though it is nice that Kim is capable of following instructions given by her dad, I would like to have seen her make more mistakes and less scenes of her jumping from one building to the next. Yes, adrenaline can help to overcome a person’s typical physical limitations. However, in this case, Kim’s mistakes would have been more interesting to watch than Kim looking like a trained government agent. Since the material leans toward the latter route, the picture lacks a down-to-earth human element.

“Taken 2” gets so stagnant at times that I caught myself noticing how tall Neeson is compared to the extras (and then snickering to myself afterwards). It should have been the complete opposite: a memorable thrill–or at least an element of surprise–every other minute that the holes in the plot end up unnoticeable because we are in the moment and at the same time wondering what else it has in store for us.

Lockout


Lockout (2012)
★ / ★★★★

When Snow (Guy Pearce) was charged with first degree murder, he was sentenced to serve time in M.S. One, a maximum security prison in space where the inmates were cryogenically frozen in order to minimize incidents. Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), currently on a mission to make sure that the prisoners were being treated fairly, became trapped inside the space station when all the captives were woken from their slumber, caused a riot, and demanded to be set free. In turn, authorities informed Snow that if he alone could rescue Emilie, he would be pardoned of the crime he didn’t commit. Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, although “Lockout” showed promise with its template involving a clear-cut rescue mission, it quickly turned into an action film devoid of fun and thrill. It seemed like the only thing it had going for it was Snow’s sarcastic remarks. Each jab was like an open sore ripe for the picking; a possibility that perhaps Snow didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. Everything and everyone was suffocatingly serious, almost robotic, that a glimmer of a genuine human personality was not only welcome, it felt critical to the survival of our interest in the film. Still, aside from Snow’s wit and endurance to take punches, we knew nothing about him. He was fun only on the outside which made the eventual romantic connection between Snow and Emilie very unconvincing and desperate. For someone who was supposed to be worldly, Emilie was incredibly annoying. Her self-righteousness made me question if she really was worth saving. I disliked her so much, I wished halfway through that Snow would realize what a pain she was and force her to drag her own weight. It seemed like every time they had an option to get out, she found a way to sabotage his hard work. I found no reason for him to be attracted to her aside from her looks. Furthermore, the action sequences were limp. The motorcycle chase scene on land looked very much like video game released ten years ago, its blurriness and lack of lighting were utilized as so-called techniques to hide its lack of pixelation. I actually snickered to myself because it was all supposed to be moody and futuristic. I didn’t buy it one bit. The battles that took place in space also lacked a proper level of believability. When crafts exploded and missiles sped through one another, loud booms and swishing noises could be heard. I could have ignored that space was a vacuum if it had had several interesting things to offer. But since I was so fatigued from the passive script and lack of originality, I was more sensitive of its shortcomings. Based on the screenplay by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather, and Luc Besson, “Lockout” presented very little substance and even less energy. The tattooed prisoners, obviously the villains, might as well have been target practice in a shooting range. Most of them did nothing, said nothing, thereby amounted to nothing. There were supposed to be almost five hundred prisoners in the facility. I think I only saw about fifty walking about. The rest of them probably remained asleep in the realization that the movie was not worth their attentions.

Léon: The Professional


Léon: The Professional (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jean Reno, a reclusive assassin whose best friend is a plant, takes twelve-year-old Natalie Portman under his wing after her family was killed by police officers led by Gary Oldman. Written and directed by Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”), I enjoyed “Léon” because it was more about the humanity of a contract killer instead of his many interesting ways of killing. Even though the action sequences could be found more toward the beginning and the end of the picture, I still found Reno and Portman’s relationship to be quite endearing. Undoubtedly, there were times when I found the director would cross the line between father-figure/daughter relationship and older man/younger girl relationship. Those scenes made me uncomfortable but perhaps it was because this was Besson’s first full English-language movie. In my opinion, European films have a more sensual feel compared to American movies. Still, I was able to overlook such flaws because I found the story to be interesting even if it needed to have more depth. Another quality I liked about this film was that there really was no “good” character. Pretty much everyone had done something shameful in their lives. And the main character was aware of this so he locks himself up in his room and only comes out whenever he has an assignment. Oldman’s character was the kind of guy that you love to hate because he has no redeeming quality. Nevertheless, I thought he was very interesting to watch because of his quirky mannerisms and sinister aura. I kind of expected an intense duel between him and the protagonist so I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. For such a sadistic man, I thought the bad guy would suffer more in the hands of another killer and get the delicious irony he deserved. If one is looking for action with picture with a heart, I’m giving “Léon” a pretty solid recommendation despite its sometimes glaring flaws.

The Fifth Element


The Fifth Element (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

I didn’t know much about this movie when I decided to watch it so my expectations were not that high. I thought it was going to be another one of those science fiction movies that deals with the apocalypse and so happens to take itself way too seriously. I couldn’t be anymore more wrong because “The Fifth Element,” written and directed by Luc Besson, was as funny and interesting as the vibrant colors that could be found in it throughout. Every 5,000 years, a strange power appears and tries to engulf life. It could be stopped by combining the powers of fire, water, wind, earth and the supposed “fifth element” for another five thousand years and the cycle continues. Bruce Willis stars as Korben Dallas, a taxi driver in futuristic New York who used to work for the military. He got sucked into the madness of intergalactic battle when Milla Jovovich–the fifth element, also known as the perfect being–literally dropped into his taxi. Their mission was to gather all the elements and save the planet from being obliterated into oblivion. Gary Oldman as the evil Zorg, Ian Holm as the priest, and Chris Tucker as the hilariously flamboyant DJ also star. I enjoyed this movie more than I expected to because its pace was quick; it didn’t dwell on the specifics on who’s who and what their intentions and motivations are. This film definitely reminded me of a hybrid between the “Star Wars” saga and the B movies of the 1950’s because it had that nice balance of imagination and humor. The only minor complaint I had was that sometimes it managed to distract itself from the story to make room for some of the more obvious funny moments. Tucker was the one who stole most of the scenes he was in because he was able to focus his manic personality into a character that had to be very enthusiastic about everything every time he was on his program. As for the visual and special effects, yes, they are sort of dated but I really didn’t care because I’m more concerned about the concept, how well a film builds on the story, and how it utilizes its characters. “The Fifth Element” is one of those movies that one can really enjoy if one doesn’t mind watching something over-the-top on a slow night.